Rival groups of plaintiffs lawyers are vying for lead roles in nearly two dozen lawsuits against railway company Norfolk Southern (NSC.N) over last month’s train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, each proposing their own plan to steer the cases.
The two groups on Wednesday presented their bids to U.S. District Judge Benita Yalonda Pearson in Youngstown, who is presiding over the cases. One plan proposed a coalition of non-Ohio class action firms to take the lead, while the other would split leadership between national and Ohio-based attorneys.
Under the first proposal, New York-based Jayne Conroy of Simmons Hanly Conroy, Colorado-based Seth Katz of Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh Jardine, Delaware-based Elizabeth Graham of Grant & Eisenhofer and Florida-based Michael Morgan of Morgan & Morgan would serve as co-counsel, with several more national class action firms and Ohio firms in senior roles.
Those attorneys said they have extensive experience working on complex litigation, and are “dedicated to committing substantial economic and legal resources” to represent the class.
The competing coalition would be led by Boston-based Kristen Johnson and Seattle-based Steve Berman of national class action firm Hagens Berman alongside Cincinnati-based Ron Parry of Strauss Troy, with support from several other Ohio firms. The self-styled “Team Ohio” emphasized their proximity to local residents reeling from disaster and said their approach would help streamline the litigation.
Residents and business owners in the lawsuits are seeking payment for property damage and to establish ongoing medical monitoring for any developing illness among residents within 30 miles of the crash site. The lawsuits raise a variety of claims against Norfolk Southern, including that the railroad was negligent and had created a nuisance for residents in the region.
The state of Ohio also sued the company on Tuesday, claiming it “recklessly” endangered the health of Ohioans. The state is seeking prior and future costs tied to the derailment and has alleged violations of state laws regulating hazardous waste, solid waste and air and water pollution.
Norfolk Southern has said it is working toward creating three long-term funds to benefit East Palestine, including one providing protection for homeowners against dipping property values, and another to protect drinking water.
The company also said it supports a “solution that addresses long-term health risks through the creation of a long-term medical compensation fund.”
Pennsylvania officials said in February that they are investigating potential criminal charges.